Published in 1985, the children's book If You Give a Mouse a Cookie launched a whole series of "circular tales" that use the trope of a slippery slope.
The story follows the consequences of giving a mouse a cookie:
First, he'll ask for a glass of milk; then he'll want a mirror to see his milk-moustache; which will prompt him to give himself a haircut while admiring his reflection; then he'll want a broom to sweep up his hair clippings . . . and this continues from one thing to the next, until the refrigerator reminds him that he's thirsty; so naturally he asks for a glass of milk ― which makes him want a cookie.
See? Full circle.
Billions and Billions Served
McDonalds celebrated the sale of their 100 billionth burger (sold by Ray Kroc himself) on national TV in 1963.
(Is it crazy that McDonalds uses 7% of all potatoes grown in the U.S. for its french fries? I don't know how we'd survive another Great Potato Famine, do you?)
McDonalds began in 1940, but what made it so popular was something it invented in 1948: the drive-thru. (That's right, McDonalds invented the drive-thru.)
Nowadays McDonalds doesn't publish their sales data, but we know there have been "Billions and Billions Served."
Billions and Billions Saved
In August 1988, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that its members had performed the 100 millionth endowment for the dead.
(Church News, August 27, 1988, accessed at https://www.thechurchnews.com/archives/1988-08-27/endowments-bless-the-living-and-dead-152854)
It took 111 years (1877 - 1988) to reach that milestone.
Don't we all hope to see on the marquee of the temple in New Jerusalem someday:
"Billions and Billions Saved!"
(I know what you're thinking, and no, not dollars. We're talking about billions of souls.)
But why are we doing all this work for the dead?
If You Give a Man an Endowment . . .
We go to the temple once for our own endowment and sealing (that is, unless you get married a bunch of times; but even those who are excommunicated and then rebaptized don't have to return to the temple to re-receive their endowment ― they just have their "blessings restored") (by the way, if our covenants can be restored by the laying on of hands, why can't they be conferred that way?).
So why do we go back to the temple again and again?
Well, to perform vicarious ordinances for the dead! It is an act of service for those who are departed, right? Isn't the work of redeeming the dead an important part of the Restoration?
Well, no. It's not.
Joseph Smith did not teach temple work for the dead other than baptism ― which will really be the work of the Millennium. (He did allude to a time when we would do anointings and other ordinances for the dead in Zion, but didn't live long enough to restore what he had in mind.)
George A. Smith:
The Twelve were then instructed to administer in the Ordinance [singular] of the Gospel for the dead, beginning with baptism and the laying on of hands. This work was at once commenced. . . . This was seen to be but the beginning of an immense work, and that to administer all the ordinances of the Gospel to the hosts of the dead was no light task.Some of the Twelve asked Joseph if there could not be some shorter method of administering for so many. Joseph in effect replied, “The laws of the Lord are immutable, we must act in perfect compliance with what is revealed to us. We need not expect to do this vast work for the dead in a short time. I expect it will take at least a thousand years.”
(George A. Smith, Statement, General Minutes of St. George Stake, 1872–1878, series 11, vol. 4, 25 December 1874.)
Joseph Smith was quite clear about baptisms for the dead, stating that "the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other—and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead" (D&C 128:18).
Notice that Joseph defined the "welding link" as just baptisms for the dead.
1829: Baptisms performed for the living.
1832: Revelation that gospel is preached to the dead (see D&C 76:73).
1840: Baptisms first performed for the dead.
1842: Nauvoo endowment introduced for the living.
1842(ish): Nauvoo Law of Adoption under which the living were sealed to priesthood "fathers."
What Happened After Joseph's Death?
There was no temple work for the dead being done (other than baptisms) until 1877 ― which was 33 years after Joseph's death.
1844 - 1877: Temple work during Brigham Young's lifetime was limited to baptisms for the dead and ordinance work for the living, just as it had been during Joseph's day.
Under Brigham Young, individuals were sealed ("adopted") into priesthood dynasties.
Let's say, for example, that you and your spouse were sealed, and while picking out your wedding china and a nice set of knives, you also got to pick . . . your "father" (!) in the eternities. Joseph? Brigham? Lorenzo? Erastus?
My favorite quote by Brigham Young on building one's spiritual dynasty ("kingdom") is:
"Were I to say to the elders you have the liberty to build up your kingdoms, one half of them would lie, swear, steal and fight like the very devil to get men and women sealed to them. They would even try to pass right by me and go to Jos[eph]."
(Brigham Young, quoted in Journals of John D. Lee, pp. 80, 88-89.)
Brigham was very protective of his place in the framework of the Law of Adoption, viewing himself as second only to Joseph. He exercised his privileges like an Olympic athlete.
So we see that during the territory era, the Law of Adoption was something that bestowed prestige; it was competitive and sometimes was a source of pride ("Guess who I am sealed to!" . . . and sometimes it led to hurt feelings, playing the 'who-has-the-biggest-families-game).
Then Wilford Woodruff changed things up:
1877: The first territory endowment for the dead was in 1877 (although these first ceremonies were performed a few months prior to Brigham Young's death, they were done under Wilford Woodruff, who was the first president of the St. George temple.)
1894: The Law of adoption ended so we could be sealed to our ancestors rather than to priesthood leaders.
Why Did the Church Start Doing Endowments for the Dead in 1877?
Why did temple work change so dramatically in 1877?
Did the Lord come up with a better way of doing things? Was the old way just to prepare us for something greater?
Well, one answer is that Wilford Woodruff was inspired by God to make the changes. We could call it "continuing revelation."
But revelation does not come in a vacuum. It is situated in the context of one's culture and comes in response to one's concerns.
And there were a couple of things going on at the time that influenced the Church's decision to extend temple work to our dead ancestors.
First and foremost, I think, was the desire to distance ourselves from the confusion that accompanied who-was-who-was-who-adopted-to-and-why?
Allowing people to be sealed to their dead ancestors was less controversial because it was black-and-white. So the Law of Adoption (in which we picked our parents) was replaced with the current practice (where we don't pick our parents).
Another factor was the Church's need to respond to growing occultism and spiritualism in the United States.
Remember how American society was enthralled with seances and communing with the dead, particularly after the Civil War? Families wanted to know the fate of their deceased loved ones.
While the Church was insulated from the Civil War for the most part, it was exposed to the encroaching influence of the occult. The Brethren frequently spoke against it, hoping to squash it.
According to Richard Bennett, the Chair of Church History and Doctrine at BYU, one of the reasons the Church began doing work for the dead was because:
[P]eople [were] seeking the dead. Was that a factor in the beginning of endowments for the dead for the church in 1877? I claim that it may have been one of the factors to begin to address how we really think about them. 'There is redemption for the dead but it’s not that way' [i.e, through the occult or spiritualism]. So was it a factor? I argue that it probably was one of the factors.
(Richard Bennett, Interview Part 8, on Gospel Tangents, posted April 12, 2017, accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JIYxSSBpjLY)
Veneration of the Dead
If you're Catholic, you light a candle and pray to your deceased relatives.
If you're in China, ancestor worship is seen as the ultimate homage to the dead.
If you're Buddhist, your piety will assist your departed loved ones toward the Heavenly Realm.
If you're in Vietnam, you will surely have an ancestor altar in your home.
If you're Egyptian, you practice mummification rituals for the dead.
If you're LDS, you go to the temple under your ancestor's name and perform ordinances vicariously.
Will "The" Fathers Please Stand?
Here's the important part: who are "the fathers" referred to in Malachi?
And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.
Is this referring to our genealogical fathers? (Which is the way I hear it being interpreted in Sunday School.)
Look at how Abraham used the term "the fathers":
I sought for the blessings of the fathers, and the right whereunto I should be ordained to administer the same . . . I became a rightful heir, a High Priest, holding the right belonging to the fathers.
It was conferred upon me from the fathers; it came down from the fathers, from the beginning of time . . . even the right of the firstborn, or the first man, who is Adam, or first father, through the fathers unto me.
Now contrast that with what Abraham says next:
My fathers, having turned from their righteousness, and from the holy commandments which the Lord their God had given unto them
What is the difference between "the fathers" and "my fathers?"
What if "the fathers" referred to the patriarchal fathers of old with whom the Lord covenanted, like Adam, Enoch, and Abraham?
What if "the fathers" referred to those noble and great ones ("gods" in Abraham 5:4) who condescended to earth in order to guide us to a better estate?
As I said in part 6 of this series:
All covenants involve the promise to love (sealing). Covenants are kept by lowering ourselves to lift others up (so in a way all covenants are covenants of condescension, which typifies the love of God).
Rubber Meets the Road
A few months before his death, on March 10, 1844, Joseph preached the doctrine of Elijah. I don't know about you, but what he taught sounds a little different from what we're used to hearing today.
You be the judge:
The spirit power & calling of Elijah is . . . the sealing of the hearts of the fathers unto the children & the hearts of the children unto the fatherseven those who are in heaven . . . .
[Umm. Our fathers are not in heaven, are they? I thought they were in the spirit world.]
I wish you to understand this subject for it is important & if you will receive it this is the spirit of Elijah that we redeem our dead & connect ourselves with our fathers which are in heaven . . . .
Again the doctrine or sealing power of Elijah is as follows if you have power to seal on earth & in heaven then we should be crafty the first thing you do go & seal on earth your sons & daughters unto yourself & yourself unto your fathers in eternal glory.
(Joseph Smith, Discourse, Nauvoo, 10 Mar. 1844; in Wilford Woodruff, Journal, pp. –; handwriting of Wilford Woodruff)
Is My Hearing Aid Turned On? Let's see if I heard this straight:
Joseph's vision was for us (the living) to build Zion so we could connect ourselves to "the" fathers who sit in eternal glory in heaven (in other words, for us to be grafted into the natural branches).
Then, once we're sealed to the fathers "in heaven," we can work backwards and seal our ancestors to ourselves?
Did I get that right?
The current "covenant path," on the other hand, has us sealing ourselves (who are not exalted) to our dead ancestors (who are not exalted), thinking that it will . . . exalt us both?
That is some creative reasoning, for sure.
Not Exalted + Not Exalted = Exalted (??)
I wish! If ever there was a dollop of carnal security to top our pancake, there it is.
Grafting two dead branches together gives us . . . a longer dead branch.
What we need is to be grafted into the True Vine: into the natural branches (through which the covenants and promises flow).
I do it that I may preserve unto myself the natural branches of the tree; and also, that I may lay up fruit thereof against the season unto myself; for it grieveth me that I should lose this tree and the fruit thereof.
And it came to pass that the Lord of the vineyard went his way, and hid the natural branches of the tame olive tree.